Staff Selects: Mumblecore
Today we’re talking about some of our favorites of the short lived microgenre of mumblecore. Some of us opted for a loose definition of the term.
I could never do something as trivial as following the rules, so my mumblecore pick is more of a mumblegore film. Creep certainly has all of the trademarks of a mumblecore classic – a focus on dialogue, a general lack of structure, and Mark Duplass in a quirky leading role – but of course, there’s a bit of a wrench in the machine. It starts how a mumblecore mockumentary would, with our protagonist Aaron driving to a secluded location to make a film around a man dying of a brain tumor. At least, that’s what he believes he is there to do. In reality he is the latest victim of a very strange serial killer who only gets more mysterious with every minute we spend with him.
The secret to Creep’s greatness is just how odd Mark Duplass’s Josef is from the beginning. We underestimate his oddity even as he narrates a memento for his unborn child before attempting to drown himself in a bathtub, only to pop back up for a good scare. Josef is treated with a scary level of depth, and the viewer is made well aware of his unconventional forms of love and attraction towards Aaron as their relationship grows beyond the filmmaker’s boundaries. When their video project concludes, the film takes a turn into stalker-thriller territory captured in fleeting glimpses from Aaron’s attempts to cobble together evidence. The final moments are equally terrifying and tragic, all with a unique independent film flavor. –Jen
From the very beginning, even in a seemingly lowkey film about a divorced dad and his kids, the Safdie brothers had perfected the art of stressing me out. Ronald Bronstein, the Frownland director who has also served as a writer and editor on all subsequent Safdie films, stars as the hapless father, struggling through every day as he encourages the worst behaviour from everyone and never realizes his own mistakes. It’s a film where the stripped back nature of the production leaves it raw and feeling like it could be happening to any number of people seen on a day walking the streets of New York. Perhaps the most memorable part of the film though is something that wasn’t intended to be in the final version. Perplexingly, two versions of the soundtrack exist and the one I saw, despite being in the Prince Charles Cinema, was the so-called “war cut” where all the music is replaced with sounds of gunfire and explosions, making it all seem a more intense experience that I can’t imagine would’ve been the same had a bootleg not been shown in London’s finest purveyor of independent cinema.- Henry
The Boss of It All
The vast majority of Lars Von Trier’s filmography can be categorized as depressing (Breaking the Waves), provocative (The House That Jack Built), or both (Antichrist). Even to an ardent fan, virtually none of his films invite frequent revisiting, but The Boss of It All is a complete 180 from the immensely dour tone and gruesome content of his more notorious outings, while still retaining his predilection for caustic humor. The plot concerns an actor who is hired to pose as the boss of a company for a potential buyer, but he’s completely out of his depth and stumbles through conversations as he tries to keep up the act. The filmmaking style is reminiscent of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where each interaction seems very lightly scripted for the actors to improvise off of, which makes the painfully awkward moments even more hilarious. The only major complaint I can lodge is that the bulk of the film seems to be crafted in post-production, with jarring jump cuts often interrupting scenes, but it all serves the brilliant comedic timing and nimble pacing. Plus, it showcases a non-sadistic side of Von Trier that we rarely get to see.- Kern
Support the Girls
Depending on whom you ask, the mumblecore movement died out around the start of the 2010s, as the founding directors of the low-key genre of filmmaking moved on to higher budgets and bigger stars to feature in their works. In a sense, they had gone off to Hollywood. There might be good reason to call Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls a post-mumblecore film, but whether the film is post-mumblecore or not, it is, above all else, a freaking fantastic movie. Regina Hall stars as the put-down manager of Double Whammies, a “breastaurant” somewhere in Texas. The film presents the daily routine of Lisa and the waitresses she loves dearly and protects from surly, leering customers while they work their asses off to pay the bills. They’re a tight-knit family that deals with abusive boyfriends and incompetent upper mangement, and they do it all together. Support the Girls is a close examination of the make-shift families that can form in a workplace, where under the guiding hand of capitalism, coworkers can be as close as brothers and sisters. It’s endlessly charming, enormously funny, and a key film to understanding the current climate of the United States. Above all, it is proof that mumblecore is still alive and kicking – and screaming from a rooftop.-Cole
Sun Don’t Shine
Perhaps more hysterical scream core than mumblecore, Amy Seimetz’s road movie, starring mumblecore staples Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley, finds the darker underbelly of Florida within the sunlight. Sun Don’t Shine isn’t your typical lovers on the run story, as the couple is no better off together than what they’re fleeing from. They scream and cry at each other, wrestle in the mud, yet keep driving through the sweaty, sticky daylight, stuck together no matter the dysfunction. Sheil’s Crystal has a cyclical habit of difficult relationships, and the film is largely about uncovering this pattern in her life. All the hard to watch squawking contrasts with the landscape, an appreciation for the little things, a roadside mermaid theme park, or an old country song in tinny bar speakers, like this road trip is about seeing light for the first time again. Not to mention, a sparkling score by Ben Lovett bringing it all together into something oddly watchable.-Sarah
The One I Love
If the mumblecore movement was birthed by improvisation, luck, and the hope of possibility, then The One I Love is around when it died. Sure it has all those things, but starring two famous television actors, directed by Malcolm McDowell’s son, and featuring a Ted Danson cameo, the genre-twisting glee inspired by the film starts to feel more in line with your standard indie darling. Executive produced by the Duplass Brothers, arguably the two people most responsible for bringing mumblecore into the mainstream, The One I Love’s deft mixture of naturalistic dialogue and disturbing elements make for the sort of electrifying and inspiring experience that can only come as the tides of taste start to shift.
If the original mumblecore films felt as a step even further back into naturalism after the independent boom of the 90s and 2000s, Charlie McDowell’s film brings the polish, control, and potential that the indie boom was known for. It’s not trying to keep the spirit of the microgenre alive, it’s using it as a jumping off point to speak eloquently about identity, fear, and the vice grip of a failing relationship. It might not be pure mumblecore, but it’s one of my favorite films of all time. Maybe I need a bit more polish from time to time. –Davey
Staff Selects amy seimetz andrew bujalski antichrist ben lovett breaking the waves charlie mcdowell creep daddy longlegs frownland kate lyn sheil kentucker audley lars von trier malcolm mcdowell mark duplass regina hall ronald bronstein safdie brothers sun dont shine support the girls the boss of it all the house that jack built the one i love
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